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Cryosurgery is sometimes used to treat early stage prostate cancer by freezing the cells with cold metal probes (hollow needles). Most doctors do not use cryosurgery as the first treatment for prostate cancer, but it is sometimes an option if the cancer has come back after other treatments. It may not be a good option for men with large prostate glands.

The doctor uses transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) to guide the probes into the prostate through the skin between the anus and the scrotum. Cold gases are then passed through the probes, which creates ice balls that destroy the prostate gland.

During the procedure, warm salt water is circulated through a catheter that has been placed into the bladder through the penis to keep the urethra (the tube that empties the bladder) from freezing. The catheter is left in place to drain the bladder after surgery, and is removed a few weeks later.

You may need to stay in the hospital for a day, but many patients can leave the same day.

Compared to surgery or radiation treatment, doctors know much less about how well this method works in the long run.

Possible side effects of cryosurgery

After the procedure, there will be some bruising and soreness in the area where the probes were inserted. You may have some blood in your urine for the first few days. Short-term swelling of the penis and scrotum after cryosurgery is also common. Freezing may also damage the bladder and intestines. This can cause pain, a burning sensation, and the need to empty the bladder and bowels often. These problems usually improve with time.

Freezing often damages nerves near the prostate, which leads to erection problems. These are more common than after surgery. Problems controlling urine (incontinence) occur less often.

For more details about cryosurgery for prostate cancer, see Prostate Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 01/09/2015
Last Revised: 02/09/2016